Grappling with devastating evil

[To go along with the theme of the sermon, the special music for this service was “I will praise you in this storm” by Casting Crowns]

I was sure by now, God you would have reached down
And wiped our tears away,
Stepped in and saved the day.
But once again, I say amen
That it’s still raining
As the thunder rolls
I barely hear your whisper through the rain
I’m with you
And as your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise
The God who gives and takes away

And I’ll praise you in this storm
And I will lift my hands
That you are who you are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise you in this storm

I remember when I stumbled in the wind
You heard my cry you raised me up again
My strength is almost gone how can I carry on
If I can’t find you
As the thunder rolls
I barely hear you whisper through the rain
I’m with you
And as your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise
The God who gives and takes away

And I’ll praise you in this storm
And I will lift my hands
That you are who you are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise you in this storm

I lift my eyes unto the hills
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord
The maker of heaven and earth
I lift my eyes unto the hills
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord
The maker of heaven and earth

And I’ll praise you in this storm
And I will lift my hands
That you are who you are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise you in this storm

And though my heart is torn
I will praise you in this storm

Scriptures: Job 1:1-22; 1 Corinthians 10:12-13

We continue with our sermon series on “How and where to see God when the world is just… wrong.” We are continuing to use of the Psalms of Lament as a model for working through these trials and tragedies, looking at how the psalmists first unabashedly told God what was wrong, how they feel, and freely call on God to answer their cries for help and comfort.

Then they remember who God is, and His sovereignty and power – usually by recounting the things God has done in their lives or in the life of the nation and people of Israel. They close with a praise to God, knowing that God is good, no matter what their current situation.

In our series we have worked through seeing God by trusting in His plan, seeking His perspective, remembering the assurance of the promise and hope of the resurrection, being obedient even if you are afraid or don’t understand, and then last week, we heard an incredible sermon and story on enduring in your faith after a personal experience of evil or tragedy.

I highly recommend that if you missed a week, go to fpcwapello.com, and click on the sermons link to get transcripts of the weeks you may have missed, once they are posted.

Today, we are going to look at seeing God at work in, and getting through, times of large-scale tragedy and evil – usually human-wrought, in today’s world, though no doubt Satan-assisted. When it is not that single sword to the heart, but a massive storm that seems to be tossing your whole world and perspective upside down and makes your heart cry out for others as much as yourself, how do we get to where we can still praise God?

This is a relevant question. Charles Templeton is one of the best known atheist apologists of the last century. But he wasn’t always that way. He actually was an evangelist when Billy Graham was just starting out as well, and most people thought he would be bigger than Billy Graham.

He was at a hotel one evening, and on the cover of a magazine he saw one of those pictures of an Ethiopian mother with a child in her arms, all spindly and starving. He said, “No God that was good would allow this to happen.” So there either is no God, or He is not good. And he became an atheist.

Today is known as “Post-Modern,” because prior to WWII, most of the civilized world thought if we just educated and “civilized” the rest of the world, we would reach the state where every human being would be in tune with their essential goodness, and society would enter a golden age.

Then we learned that even education, wealth, and civilization cannot prevent evil from rising, as Hitler rose to power and eventually killed six million Jews. (Holocaust Remembrance Day, by the way, was this week.) It’s in the process of being forgotten.

It is no longer required teaching in school, and many younger people – even if they have heard of it – cannot tell you how many died, or what Auschwitz is, or other aspects or facets of that terrible event. What’s that saying? “Those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it.”

We have our own forms of evil going on in the world today. Genocides in the Middle East, and in various African countries like Rwanda. South Africa black leadership is exacting a vengeance on the very people that made it possible for them to be there, as they have passed laws to appropriate and prevent all white ownership of land. The intent is to drive them out without using the military (so far), and the president has publicly stated that.

There are unfortunately still droughts in Ethiopia, and still starving children in every country. We will be discussing dealing with natural disasters and responding to both large-scale evil and those disasters in the coming weeks; but I want today to focus on something in particular. Not activism, not volunteerism, but personal peace and praise. My Dad used to call it being “the happy warrior.”

Sometimes, we have a single, life changing event that tests our faith, like Pauline spoke of last week. Sometimes, though, it seems like it is pile-on time, and Satan is winning the day in the world and our lives. Social injustice continues, corruption continues and even seems to flourish. And we grow frustrated, cynical, and often more extreme either in our reclusiveness, or our frenetic activity as we try to either keep it all at bay, or get something – anything! – done.

It is sometimes easy to jump straight into that activism, standing up against evil. After all, we are called to stand up to evil. And that is important. But it’s also important to go through the reflection on God’s perspective, as we see in Job. Otherwise our activism will just be from a human perspective, without God in the picture.

One of the other difficulties with large-scale disaster is also that everyone around you is affected, making it harder to find someone to support you with a godly, positive perspective. Sometimes you can support each other. But sometimes you both end up feeling angry, resentful, and self-pitying, and sharing those feelings actually multiplies the effect. So we need to be careful and watch ourselves in those times of large-scale tragedy and evil.

We need to look at the Psalms, and stories like Job. Job shows us how to use everything we have previously discussed on a personal level. First of all, he endures. He endures not only through the wrongful huge losses, but also, although we didn’t read about it this morning, his “friends” turning on him, telling him, “You surely must have sinned. You’ve done something wrong. Why don’t you just confess it and admit it? And then everything will be OK.”

Even his own wife calls on him and says, “Why don’t you just curse God and die?” You know, it’s pretty bad when your own wife tells you to die. He endures personal pain and suffering, as his health is taken way as well next, the second trial of Job.

Through it all, he maintains his innocence. He isn’t afraid to tell God what he thinks of all this, and even to challenge God’s purposes. In fact, we see, in the last chapters of Job, God’s response when Job oversteps his bounds, in his challenges to God. But rather than simply sending a lightning bolt down to destroy Job, God brings him to an awareness of the difference between them.

Prior to all that, he maintains the sovereignty of God, and recognizes his own place in the universe. In verse 21, he recognizes his essential humanity – that he came into the world naked, and will leave it naked.

Job also recognizes God’s plan and provision when he says “he” [that is, God] “gives and takes away.” He puts his trust in God’s promise when he says later, “I know that my redeemer lives.” He doesn’t understand what is going on, but nevertheless, he worships God. That’s what it says in the Scriptures. He worships God, saying “Blessed be the name of the Lord,” or as your translation says, “The name of the Lord be praised.” He gives praise to God in the midst of that terrible tragedy and evil.

Now it’s tempting to say that it’s all personal still, and not systemic, or national, or global in scale. It’s not the kind of injustices that we see in the world around us today. That is true in one sense. Although certainly, if you had 7000 sheep and 3000 camels and cattle and donkeys and all the other animals die, and all the servants put to the sword, it hit the whole community, on a large scale.

But ultimately, it is always personal. Your reaction is yours. It is shaped by your experience, your passion, and your heart. Even with heart-rending tragedy, like a school shooting, our response is shaped by our personal relationship with God and our understanding of who He is.

We can show compassion; grieve with those who mourn (even as Christ did), and yet still praise God as good. It is man, after all, who has fallen and taken creation down with him. It is man who is depraved. It is man whose sin nature so often runs amok. And always, always there are consequences to such actions.

Even where there is repentance that leads to forgiveness, there are still consequences. God is a just God, and will bring about the downfall of evil and the purification of the world, in His time and according to His plan. Frequently, that’s when we struggle, because we can’t necessarily see it.

So in the meantime, we must make it clear to ourselves and to others that God is not the author of such evil. God’s plan and perspective span eternity, not just here and now. God deserves praise and worship regardless of the massive storms of life, because of who He is, and because of the wondrous blessings He has already given. I think that this can be important to us in days like this, in times where we seem so polarized.

Sure of God’s love and grace, we can move forward with peace in the storm, and make better decisions about how to respond to the evil that is so prevalent in our world. We can even agree to disagree on how to handle some social wrongs, knowing that no one here has a complete understanding of everything but God, and we are responding as we believe necessary while still praising the same God of us all – together.

Let me say that again, because I think in this world and in this day, that is important. If we remember God’s love and grace, moving forward with peace in the storm, we not only make better decisions about how to respond to the evil, but when we have different paths, when we see different ways of responding to it, but both are still attempting to change things, instead of demonizing the other side, dismissing the other side, and giving up on relationships and friendships, we can agree to disagree on the method, and trust that each of us is still following God as we understand Him and His plan, and then together we can worship.

It’s an amazing thing when you can get those kind of people together. And trust me, it’s been that way since the early church. There’s a reason why Paul had to speak about “there is no Jew or Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female.” There were social customs that were being upended. There were evils that were being faced. They all responded differently depending on their status. And Paul is saying, “Within the church, that doesn’t matter.” Because our focus should be on God and on giving Him praise.

This is one of the hardest subjects, really, to preach on. The evil is so vague, the tragedy so large. As we will see next week and the week following, we are expected to react. We are expected to move in personal, relational ways to alleviate the suffering caused by such events. We can’t just ignore them. We can’t just pull in behind our walls and say, “Let the world go to hell in a handbasket. We’re just staying right here.” There are those that do that, but not us Presbyterians.

No, we are to share our peace and joy so that others we minister to will also be able to praise God – in the middle of their storm. That starts with ourselves. If we don’t maintain the right attitude and perspective for ourselves, we can hardly teach it to others or expect them to “get it.”

So I would encourage you this week, don’t feel overwhelmed by the overwhelming evil that you see in the world. Don’t be fatalistic about it either, saying, “It is what it is. It will be what it will be. Whatever.” Too many people have that attitude today. “Whatever.” Instead, seek God. Remember who He is. Remember His provision for you in Jesus Christ, the love that He has shown you in the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior. And give Him praise, even in the midst of this storm we call life.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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